When Emma Barnett was cleaning her house last weekend, she picked up her boyfriend's pants, and noticed the laundry tag. It advised to wash the chinos inside out in warm water, to use only non-chlorine bleach, and to avoid ironing the print. "Or---" it adds at the bottom, "GIVE IT TO YOUR WOMAN, IT'S HER JOB."
Barnett happened to be the digital media editor on the major British newspaper The Telegraph. So she wrote an article. She knew "how to take a joke," she explains, "even when it seemed it was at the expense of my gender." But this hidden sexist imperative, to get "your woman" to fulfill her traditional function as laundress to the man, strangely irked her.
The problem, she says, is that there wasn't really anything funny about it. So a few days before International Women's Day, Barnett took to Twitter with the hashtag #sexisttrousers. She was deluged with notes of outrage and support, as well as a minority of folks who told her to "lighten up" and "take a joke," and that if she's offended she "needs to get a life," because it was all just "banter" -- a uniquely British term for mild insults that are meant to be laughed off.
"We really are in a bad place as a society," she writes, "when laughing something off has become virtually the only response to anything vaguely anti-female, or anti-male for that matter."
Barnett's colleague at The Telegraph, Tom Chivers chimed in with his own thoughts on banter. "It is cruelty unleavened by wit but which is excused because it is a bit like wit," he says, "if you look at it from a certain angle."
The store where Barnett's boyfriend bought the pants, called Madhouse, messaged Barnett an apology, saying "they didn't know, and they need to be more careful in future," she tweets.
Some say #sexisttrousers is simply a genius marketing ploy, and Madhouse will only benefit from the publicity. But whether that was the plan is unknown. For the time being, Madhouse's website has suddenly closed for maintenance, and the clothing store couldn't be reached for comment.
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